With bail reform coming, Mercer judge anxious to move murder cases
Anticipating the impact New Jersey’s bail reform will have on currently jailed defendants, a Mercer County judge said he was anxious to get the murder cases of two men to trial before next year.
The men, Donte Jones and Ronald Smith, are each charged with separate slayings.
Jones is charged with fatally shooting 36-year-old Levonza Thompson with a 9mm handgun in the courtyard of the Oakland Park Apartments on the 200 block of Coolidge Avenue on Halloween night 2014. He has so far rejected a plea deal offer that would send him to prison for 33 years.
Smith, who is serving an unrelated prison sentence, is accused of killing 27-year-old Kevin Thomas in 2006. He also has so far rejected prosecutors’ plea offer that would require him to spend 27 years in prison for aggravated manslaughter.
Judge Robert Billmeier said at status hearings for both men Monday he wants to attempt to get the cases scheduled for trial before the end of the year.
In 2017, New Jersey will undergo a massive change as part of bail reform intended to unclog the state’s jails of low-level offenders awaiting trial because they cannot afford to post bail.
The law will also expedite trials for higher-risk defendants by guaranteeing they are tried within six months of being indicted.
The state is bracing for the change, and officials are expected to meet this month to discuss how it will impact Mercer County, which has one of the state’s worst backlog of criminal cases.
The judge reminded Smith and Jones that while they have been incarcerated for lengthy periods while awaiting trial, defendants in one murder case have been behind bars for five years while awaiting trial.
Both men are represented by defense attorney Mark Fury.
Fury said he anticipates filing motions in Smith’s case, including for bail reconsideration and a motion to dismiss based on the age of the murder case.
Smith has been held on $750,000 since he was served with the charges in the 2006 homicide while he was behind bars.
He is accused of gunning down Thomas while he was a passenger in a vehicle stopped at a street light at the corner of East State and Chambers streets in September 2006.
Authorities said witnesses came forward who identified Smith as the gunman, which helped them solve the cold case.
Smith, a notorious crime figure in Trenton, was convicted as part of Operation Capital City, a drug takedown that netted high-ranking members of the Gangster Killer Bloods, led by Bernard “Petey Black” Green, in 2010.
His current sentence ends January 2017.
Jones has multiple cases that need to be tried. He was out on bail for weapons charges when he was arrested and charged with murder.
Fury told the judge at the hearing that “nothing stands between us and plea cut off.”
Jones is expected back in court June 22, while Smith returns to court June 24.